Joan Whelan Lyle was born on 12 March 1920 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She graduated from St. Lois Park High School in 1937 and enrolled at the University of Minnesota. While there, Lyle took private flying lessons. With other student pilots, she formed the Minneapolis Flying Club and eventually earned her instructor’s rating. In 1942, she graduated from college and worked briefly as a flight instructor at the Minneapolis Airport. She then attended air traffic control training in Chicago and worked in the control tower in Cincinnati while waiting to get into the WASP.
After several unsuccessful attempts to join the WASP, in spring of 1943 Lyle appealed her case to Jacqueline Cochran, founder of the WASP, and was accepted. From September 1943 to March 1944 she attended training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. Following graduation she was sent to Dodge City, Kansas, for B-26 training. She was then sent to Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho, to tow targets for gunnery students. Lyle left the WASP when it was disbanded in December 1944.
Lyle returned home to Minneapolis and to flight instructing. She moved to Pembina, North Dakota, to work at a relative's flight school. After the school closed, she moved to Los Angeles so she could fly year round. She worked briefly as an instructor in East Los Angeles, and later at airports in Culver City and Santa Monica. She also worked in aircraft sales for Beechcraft as a private pilot for a Chicago business. In 1953 she married George Lyle, and soon thereafter Lyle stopped flying. The couple has seven children.